Risotto alla Milanese, or risotto flavored with saffron and a whole heap of bone marrow, is one of those perfect dishes that I crave exactly twice a year.
I know this precisely because I looked into my kitchen cabinet the other day and found two half empty containers of both saffron and Carnaroli rice (my favorite rice for risotto). Without the time to simmer a fresh batch of beef stock or the want to deal with all that marrow on a weeknight, I wondered if I could whip up a batch of saffron stained risotto quickly and easily for a weeknight dinner. Of course, I'd need to add some additional items to flesh this out into a full meal.
Then came the dilemma: how could I avoid the temptation to screw up the risotto by adding a bunch of extraneous ingredients to the pot?
I didn't want the poor risotto to have to suffer for the sake of a dozen competing flavors, loosing its essential nature along the way. I needed a couple of ingredients to bulk things out, which would also play nicely with the saffron. Shrimp seemed like an obvious choice, since it would also lighten the load by adding a fresh pop of sweet flavor. Still, I wanted something with crunch. Enter pistachios. If I toasted and then chopped them, they could be sprinkled on at the end.
I whipped up a straightforward batch of saffron risotto, withholding the other two ingredients until the very end. Then, with the heat off, I stirred in the other two ingredients, covered the pot, and let the residual heat do the rest of the work. Saving this until the end allowed me to focus most of my attention where it belonged: on the risotto. As I mentioned above, I'm a huge fan of Carnaroli rice, because it maintains a slight bite to it, though Arborio will definitely work. Like Kenji, I also like my risotto on the saucy side. No additional ingredients can save gluey, clumpy risotto.
- 6 to 8 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1/2 cup pistachios, shells removed
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deviened
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 ounce)
Warm the chicken stock up in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer. Transfer 1/2 cup of stock to a small bowl and stir in the saffron threads. Set aside.
Set a skillet over medium heat and add the shelled pistachios. Toast briefly until warm, 15 to 30 seconds (watch them carefully, as they may burn). Remove pistachios and set aside. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the onion pieces are soft but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until each piece turns from translucent to milky white.
Add the wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Using a ladle, transfer 1 cup of stock to the pot. Stir occasionally until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat process until five cups have been added. Then pour in the saffron stock and stir well until this has been mostly absorbed. If the rice is tender but still with a slight bite in the center, you're done. If it has more of a crunch, keep adding an additional 1/2 cup of stock until rice is done. The risotto should be saucy, not too clumpy, so add additional broth if you need to thin it out once the rice is done.
Stir in shrimp, butter, half the parmesan, and half the pistachios. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let it rest until the residual heat completely cooks shrimp, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with a few cracks of black pepper and, if needed, more salt. Thin out until the risotto is saucy enough to form a flat layer on a plate without clumping up. Serve in hot bowls or plates with an additional sprinkle of cheese and pistachios.